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How to Prepare for (and Ace!) an Interview

How to Prepare for (and Ace!) an Interview

Tips for Recent Grads (Part 2)

by Tim Strandquist, VP-Projects & Executive Search

Alright, you’ve done the company research I recommended in Part 1 of this series. You know to arrive no more than 10 to 15 minutes early for the interview. You’re going to treat everyone courteously and professionally, knowing that anyone in the company could be watching you and advising the hiring manager. If you’re having a phone interview, you’ve insured your space is distraction-free; if you’re meeting in person, you’re prepared with extra copies of your resume and other documents. Now, it’s showtime—your chance to prove that you’re the top candidate for the position, and an overall awesome person to be around.


1.  Research

Practice your introduction. Most interviews will start with, “Tell me about yourself.” Use this three- to five-minute introduction to highlight your successes, but more importantly inform the interviewer about who you are and what you are looking for in your next role. Starting with education, walk back to front through your resume (even if it is short) and discuss the roles you’ve had. If that includes work through college or any volunteering, include that.

An exercise that I like to use with candidates is to have them create three columns on paper for each position:

   ·   Write down 3-4 RESPONSIBILITIES that you had for each job.
   ·   On the next column, jot down what ACTIONS you took.
   ·   On the final column, list what the RESULTS were.

Just writing these down gets you into the practice of sharing them like a story. Some of the best presenters and salespeople emphasize the need to tell stories because it keeps the attention of the listener and builds a relationship. Even if it is about a mundane topic, find the story in it.

Finally, finish up the introduction with a tidbit about you personally and why you want the job. There are many questions that are off limits to ask, so know those going in and decide what you are willing to reveal. You can share a funny story about your pet, or, if you’re me, your obsession with fantasy baseball. In one of the interviews that got me a great sales job after college, we spent 10 minutes talking about Seinfeld and the “Summer of George”. The topic itself isn’t what’s important but the connection and the personality you demonstrate. Interviewers are looking for energetic and fun people that they would WANT to see and work with every day.  

2.  Stay positive

While being asked about your past or how you would handle things, be honest and truthful but positive. Never say anything negative about a previous employer. People are smart enough to read how difficult the challenges were based on your answer without you having to speak negatively. Find the positives in every negative situation and you’ll show great maturity. I am always looking for candidates that think positively and are looking to fix problems and create solutions.

3.  Questions

Sometimes, if there is a break in the action early in the interview it is appropriate to ask a question or two. “What are you looking for in a candidate and out of this role?” is straightforward but can help create a great discussion. It gets the hiring manager talking, and you get to the heart of the matter—what they need and want—which can help you frame your answers moving forward. Some other examples of questions to ask early are:

   ·   What is your vision for the department/company?
   ·   What will I be doing on a day-to-day basis?
   ·   What are some of the ongoing projects within the organization?
   ·   How can I come on board and make an immediate impact?

When wrapping up the interview, one of the most common questions asked of candidates is, “Do you have any questions?” Always have a few ready, and jot some down during the meeting if you want to follow up on certain topics. Think strategically. If you have discussed what the hiring manager is looking to change within his department, ask about timelines or how he is going to manage that change. Keep looking forward because it shows you are already thinking about how to improve and grow the organization. I have had many hiring managers and even CEOs eliminate candidates just because they had bad questions or didn’t have any.


Asking about compensation, parking spots, lunch, work hours, offices or anything similar can be discussed later. If they ask you about compensation, tell them it is negotiable. This includes when you fill out an application. What you say will have little to do with what they pay you unless you put a low figure down.

4.  The Close

When you feel the meeting wrapping up or when they ask you one last time if you have questions, ask the hiring manager if they think you are qualified for the position. Just practice saying it: “Do you think I am qualified for this position?”

You will most likely get one of two responses. If they say, “yes,” tell them you are excited about next steps in the process and would love the opportunity to be the successful candidate. If they say, “no,” ask if there are specific areas where you are too light or weak. Sometimes, they may not have gotten a clear picture of your experience or abilities through your resume or the interview, and this is your opportunity to clarify and amplify. Finally, smile and thank them for their time.

5.  Follow Up

Do you want to stand out? Immediately after the interview, hand-write a thank you note. I have physical reminders of candidates around my desk because they took the time to thank me. This keeps them top of mind and it only took two minutes to do so. Ninety percent of candidates will either forget or write a quick email thank you, which is fine…but I want you to ACE the interview! Keep your note simple—thank them for their time and reassure them that you are interested in the opportunity. It’s also fine to include something funny that came from the conversation.

Remember that the process may not move as quickly as you’d like it to. I had to wait nearly a month for an offer after interviewing out of college. Things come up, so don’t be a nuisance when it comes to following up—check in via email after a couple of weeks (or sooner, if it’s a sales role). Find the right balance of showing initiative without being a pest, and know that if you’re the right candidate, they’ll remember you.

Are you ready to put these interviewing tips into action and ace your next interview? We’re here to help you find the perfect fit. Check out our current Job Openings today!